Dyke March, San Francisco 2018
Last week, an anti-transgender lesbian told me I couldn’t call myself a “dyke.” I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not exclusively attracted to women or if it’s that I’m a trans woman. Either way, this word is a reclaimed slur for anyone who’s a woman attracted to women (and usually people who dress along the masculine spectrum). I’m trans, queer, and attracted to multiple genders. That doesn’t negate my womanhood or attraction to women.
Here’s some history for you: “dyke” emerged as a term in the mid 19th century to describe a well-dressed man. The term took on the original pejorative meaning as “bullydyke” in the late 1920’s following its coinage. However, by the 1970’s the term was widely reclaimed. Publications like the Women’s Press Collective encouraged the use of dyke to make it our own. I should also note that most of the members of the WPC supported trans women themselves.
By the late 1970’s, the community dropped “bull” from the term. It quickly gained new popularity with the Alison Bechdel (another lesbian who supports trans women) comic “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1983. Finally, “dyke” entered the mainstream as the first national Dyke March took place in Washington, D.C. in 1993. Held without a permit, it was organized by the Lesbian Avengers, a trans-inclusive group of radical women who loved women. They took part in direct actions around the country for decades. Many of the members did not identify as lesbians but instead as transgender, bisexual, or pansexual among other identities. Dyke is meant to include any woman who is attracted to women. To claim otherwise is not only inaccurate but also ahistorical.